31 May 2006

Disappearing Ink XV - The Last Unicorn

In 1982, my parents took me to a the theatre where I would be terrified by a huge fiery beast. This red bull does not, as you might expect, give you wings, but rather chases unicorns into oblivion. The Last Unicorn was based on a novel by Peter Beagle, who also assisted in the screenplay adaptation. America came out of the desert on their nameless horse just in time to contribute several songs to the film's soundtrack including the theme. This was a Rankin/Bass production, the team that also gave us the stop-motion Christmas Special Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the animated The Hobbit , and the TV series Thundercats (Hooooooooooo!). While the film scored an unimpressive $6.5 million box office take, it has found a loyal following and greater appreciation since its release on video.

The film opens with the strangely attractive and titular "Last Unicorn" coming to the realization, that she is the last of her kind. This information comes through the ramblings of a crazy singing butterfly. I guess, that was good enough for the Unicorn, because she sets off on a quest to find the red bull and her kind. Along the way, she is captured by carneys including Murder She Wrote's Angela Lansbury. The bumbling wizard Schmendrick helps her escape. The duo becomes a trio when Miss Molly Grue joins the quest. The group heads for King Haggard's castle, the home of the red bull. But along the way, the bull appears and nearly kills the Unicorn. Schmendrick, in a desperate attempt to save the unicorn transforms her into the enchanting woman Amalthea. Since the bull only seems to hate unicorns, he leaves the three alone. The trio join the King's court, and continue to search for the rest of the unicorn folk.

As a human, the hornless unic Amalthea not only loses her taste for sugar cubes, but starts to forget her life as a unicorn, and begins to fall in love with Prince Lir (who has always loved horseback riding). King Haggard (voiced by Saruman) remains suspicious of the three, and has a hunch that Amalthea is no mere human. The trio are aided by a peglegged pirate-talking pussycat with an eyepatch and a funny skeleton (aka Odo), who help them to find the bull's lair and the unicorns. I won't spoil the end, but I will say that not everyone gets a happily ever after. Amalthea must either stay human "walking man's roads" and in love, or give up love and return to a state of immortality as a unicorn with her own kind.

Though the animation in The Last Unicorn is family friendly, the themes of the film are thought provoking and profound. Unfortunately, some of the character designs are a bit on the goofy side (big nosed Schmendrick and wrinkled face Haggard), undermining the more serious tone of the film. The music is also a great fit for the film and the time in which the movie was made. There are a couple of other songs in the movie that do not hold up as well as America's, but they aren't that bad either. Along with some of the strange characters I mentioned above (butterfly and cat), there are a couple of other odd moments including a seduction by a busty oak. But these elements add to the film's charm. Nevertheless, this film triumphs over other 1980's stabs at dark edged swords and sandals adaptations such as The Black Cauldron and the live action film Legend. On the other hand, I have to be careful. A dude shouldn't be to generous with his ravings about unicorn movies. I thinks it's safe to give Amalthea and company a solid B.

Here is a clip from the film featuring America:


Check out my past reviews:
Fire & Ice
The Sword in the Stone
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
Princess Mononoke
The Black Cauldron
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Grave of the Fireflies
The Iron Giant
Kaena: The Prophecy


j said...

I remember watching this on video at my neighbor's house. I don't know that I've even seen it since, but its always left a strong impression. I thought it was very interesting and lot of suprises at the end, and the red bull certainly is frightening.

Furious Peter Hon said...

Just some trivia, but the animation studio that made the Last Unicorn went on to become.....

Studio Ghibli.

j said...

So, while I was buying some DVDs online last week, I bought this film and just finished watching it last night. And I have to say I liked it, but there were some spots that very clearly seemed to be missing. Like the first time we hear the cat talk, Molly says, "Why do you always talk in riddles?", as though they've been talking for quite some time. Also, the guy who plays Odo (and was on TV's Benson) was prominently advertised on the packaging, so I was surprised to find out he was only the skeleton. And the "family friendliness" of the film was only slightly compromised by the busty tree, but perhaps more so by the Harpy (the vulture-like creature with naked boobs).

Still, I liked it and was curious to see how the red bull would be bested. Also, the America songs were probably my favorite part.

Chip Chief said...

yeah, its funny that they felt Odo was their biggest star and a selling point in spite of his small part. glad you liked it. So, have you always beeen an America fan, or did this win you over?

Anonymous said...

I just rented this movie. I remembered watching it as a kid and being freaked out by it. Now I know why. It was pretty deep.